DI: We had an animated conversation the other day, and I’d like to talk about something similar: Republicans in the House have been saying they want a balanced budget amendment; in fact, they’re refusing to vote on the debt ceiling without it being tied to a balanced budget amendment. And you told me that was the stupidest thing you’ve ever heard.
B: The problem with a balanced budget amendment is it’s pointless. Because even if a congress were to violate the amendment- even if Congress decided to go completely off the deep end and stop collecting any taxes while also double all spending, an amendment would be powerless to stop them.
DI: And why’s that?
B: There are a couple of issues tied up here, both having to do with enforcement. The first hurdle has to do with the mechanism of enforcement. How do you write an amendment that guarantees that the budget be balanced? The most creative method I heard came from Warren Buffet, who suggested the amendment state that sitting congresspersons could not be reelected if there was a deficit. But even the budget hawks probably wouldn’t go for that- since even the most ambitious budgets won’t achieve balance for several years. And realistically, putting a revolving door into the Congress would likely increase spending, rather than decrease it. I mean, if you’re not going to have to be accountable to the voters at all, why not? Even assuming you could come up with language for an amendment that would be able to get through the constitutional process- which takes years and comes with no guarantees- you come up against the second issue.
When there’s a contention, rather than if, it’s ultimately the courts who are responsible for enforcing the Constitution. But the courts have refused to hear the case in similar circumstances. The courts have argued that plaintiffs don’t have standing to sue, even a case where congresspeople argued that their ability to carry out their constitutional prerogatives was being thwarted.
DI: And for those of us who have thusfar avoided being the targets of lawsuits, what’s standing?
B: Standing basically says that you personally were hurt by an action. For better or worse, the current court tends to favor executive power. So these suits get thrown out for lack of standing if there are any shades of gray.
But even if you assume for a moment that a court- any court- decides to set aside the concept of standing. Maybe they’re mad as hell, too, and want to see if anything can be done about it. They hear the case, and decide that indeed Congress is exceeding it’s authority by spending more than they’re bringing in. What then?
The court can’t decide on its own which spending is improper- they don’t have a line item veto: there’s nothing approaching that in the court’s authority. The court would then be left with the choice of either declaring the entire government unconstitutional, or admitting that it couldn’t do anything to change it. And even if a judiciary so vastly overstepped that it declared the US government illegitimate, what then? Does the Congress just turn in their parking passes and go home. Or do they flip the Court the bird and keep on trucking?
I want to be clear, here: I want a balanced budget, and sooner is certainly better than later. But this slash it now now NOW attitude pervading the conservatives in Congress- especially when coupled with intransigence on taxes- is purely political. It has nothing, zero, to do with the long term health and viability of the government or the country- and even less to do with the well-being of its citizens. Republicans are using the current budget issues as an excuse to try and dismantle the social programs they have never particularly liked.
Ironically, the largest drivers of our current financial woes, were enacted by Republicans who had gotten rid of pay as you go rules and scoffed at the idea that they should have to pay for their agenda. Congressional Republicans are playing chicken with the global economy, and what they claim to be holding out for is this amendment. But it’s pointless and toothless.
DI: I read in the Washington Post that Michelle Bachman has said that she will not vote for a debt ceiling increase. The reporter said that placed her to the right of some other conservatives.
B: But it’s not ideologic, it’s just idiotic.
This is unprecedented. Never in the history of this country have we defaulted. That’s why we have good credit. Seriously, this would be like the head of a household declaring to his family, “We’re just not going to pay the credit card bill.” Years of good credit history would disappear, and borrowing rates, for the car, the kid’s student loans, the home, would all go way up. And even delaying payments a month would make the interest rates on any existing debt skyrocket. There is absolutely no good reason to do this. It borders upon insane.
DI: But don’t we have to cut spending?
B: Sure. Absolutely. And there are ways to do that that don’t put the financial future of the country at risk, that don’t put the global economy at risk. The sane thing to do would be to pass a clean debt ceiling hike today. The ambitious but still not crazy thing might be to push for, not some empty amendment, but a binding budget agreement that says that budgets over the next ten years we need to cut 10% of the deficit annually. As an enforcement mechanism, the law could automatically cut budgets across the board at the decade mark to make up for whatever deficit was left. Add in that repeal of this law takes a three quarters majority of both houses and you have a balanced budget law that’s even stronger than pay as you go rules the Democrats used to operate under.
DI: But isn’t that undemocratic?
B: So’s a balanced budget amendment. But just maybe to be responsible, we can’t be all that democratic. To make it fair, though, you could make sure the law can’t take effect without three quarters of both houses voting for it- so it takes an equal amount to pass it as repeal it.
Alternatively, you could reinstate the old pay as you go rules, with the change that you don’t just have to pay for changes, but pay a ‘surcharge’ on changes, of say 10%, so every time Congress made adjustments to programs they would have to find savings or revenue to cover the difference, plus ten percent. There are lots of ways to get us back in the black- and the vast majority are simple math problems that don’t require destroying Medicare or gutting Social Security or even telling the poor that we’re okay with them dying.
But the amendment, and especially tying an amendment or budget cuts, to the debt ceiling? That’s playing with fire. And it’s all of us that are going to get burned.
DI: You feel better? Farther away from a coronary than when we started? I hope so, because to make amends to our readership for your crazy polemics- I’m kidding; please don’t hit me- you know what time it is?
B: Where were we?
DI: Diana had just been to Cale Pharmaceuticals with the Gotham Police to investigate Danielle’s story, and came up empty.
B: Okay, we’re back in the embassy, then.
Diana, I swear to you, it should have been there.
Start at the beginning.
I thought we'd hit a dead end in our research. We'd missed all of our milestones. When Veronica called me in, I thought it was because we were going to have all of our funding pulled. But she said she'd found a benefactor, one that was going to keep funding our project, and had some... ideas about getting over our hurdles.
The human body doesn’t like tech. Whether it’s an artificial hip or nanites, we tend to react pretty violently to a foreign object implanted in the body- hence anti-rejection meds. The project, we were calling it “Silver Swan” to keep it secret, involved nanotec cosmetics. The idea was to stop putting makeup on the body, and start making the body itself beautiful. But all of our subjects were getting sick. Several of them developed tumors. It was a mess. This new investor brought in a truckload of cash and some kind of know-how. Within 72 hours all of our problems were gone. At first I was thrilled- I’ve been working on this project for six years, practically my entire professional life- and finally it was getting somewhere. Then I saw what they used it for. And it just, I knew they were taking shortcuts. Because that kind of a breakthrough, from where we were, it wasn’t possible.
That's because it wasn’t science. It was magic. And I know someone with plenty of it.
DI: I think I know where you’re going with this. CUT TO poolside, a beautiful woman in a bikini, with long purple hair, is lounging beside the pool.
B: She sets her drink down on a tray held up by a male waiter who is dressed like a Chippendales dancer. He takes the drink away, and as he’s going, she wiggles her fingers, and his trunks become loose and nearly fall off before he catches them, giving us the hint of an untanned but firm butt.
DI: Thanks for that.
B: Somebody needs to help keep the ratio of T & A to man candy equitable. Besides, Circe really is man crazy. Circe lays back down, relaxing. A shadow looms over her, and she assumes for the moment it’s the waiter as she sits up to speak.
A little more salt on the rim this time if you- oh. It’s you.
Cale Pharmaceuticals. I have reason to believe that someone’s been trying to magic up some miracle make up.
And you’re tired of trying to conceal those crow’s feet? Wish I could help you, Diana, really I do. But have you forgotten what happened last week?
Circe pushes down her sunglasses to reveal a black eye.
Oh, right. I punch a lot of people. Sometimes I forget who.
I haven't had time, or frankly the perspicacity, to engage in another endeavor. Give me another week, maybe two, at poolside and perhaps I'll have something fun we can get up to, but today, I'm only lounging at the pool. But did you try Ares? Of course not. You came here hoping it was me. Because you don't enjoy the prospect of locking horns with the god of war- though as a lady I'd be happy to lock his horn any day of the week.
Lady might be a bit of a stretch.
Meow. Kitten’s got claws.
But if you're lounging around here, who's tending to your flock?
We witches call it a coven. And I forget the young man's name, but he looks excellent without a shirt on.
At least you remember the important details.
I note you're chirlishly disapproving tone, Diana. But if L. Ron Hubbard can have his own clan of religious zealots, why can't I? Speaking of clans of zealots, how are the Amazons?
That's right. I hit you because you were trying to turn every Amazon on Themiscyra into a pig.
I've been in the market for another island- and I am a sucker for the classics.